Mikal Bridges #1 of the Brooklyn Nets drives to the...

Mikal Bridges #1 of the Brooklyn Nets drives to the hoop against the Orlando Magic at Barclays Center on Saturday, Dec. 2, 2023 in New York City. Credit: Jim McIsaac

Jacque Vaughn wasn’t going to call timeout Wednesday after Trae Young made a three-pointer with 17.3 seconds left. The Nets coach had a better plan - let Mikal Bridges respond.

Bridges dribbled the ball up court and waved off help from his teammates. When Dorian Finney-Smith came to set a screen, Bridges drove the opposite way to set up his game-winning 18-foot shot in Atlanta against the Hawks.

Vaughn has said often the only way to be better in late-game moments is being in and learning from them. Through 20 games, it's helping Bridges grow into one of the NBA's top clutch-time performers.

“When you're in those situations, there's a feeling to it,” Vaughn said. "There’s a moment to it. There is a dedication to it. There is a responsibility to it. And he's really been answering the challenge. And we’ll continue to put him in those situations.”

The numbers back up Bridges’ production. He’s taken 38 field goal attempts in clutch situations, second most behind Kevin Durant, and his 55.3% shooting is second-best among the league’s top 10 in clutch field goal attempts behind LeBron James.

He remains tied with Young with 61 clutch points, second-most behind Damian Lillard. Those four players are proven All-Stars and Bridges is making a case that he deserves consideration this year.

For Bridges, being calmer in late-game possessions stems from growing trust with his teammates. When he hit a layup Wednesday to put the Nets up one with 32 seconds left, he credited Spencer Dinwiddie and Royce O’Neale adjusting to him rolling to the rim.

“You want to be in them late game moments and take a lot of pride in it,” Bridges said. “You can see everybody's face from the coaches, everybody on the bench, to the five guys out there. Like everybody's locked in and want to be in these tough situations.”

It’s a role Bridges has thrived in with the Nets in their share of close games. At the Heat, he scored or assisted on the Nets’ last 11 points to finish a four-point Nets win. He had a 10-point fourth quarter in a win against the Wizards,  helping rally the Nets from a late five-point deficit.

Of course, there's his final game with Team USA in last summer's World Cup, where he made a game-tying three-pointer to force overtime after a missed free throw.

He hasn’t been perfect, as a potential go-ahead layup was blocked with 8.1 seconds left in overtime in a Nov. 22 loss at the Hawks. But forgetting what happened in past clutch moments and focusing on execution in the next one is what turns great players into better late-game performers.

“It’s a process and it builds. And he's keeps a positive mindset about it.” said Cam Johnson, Bridges’ teammate for five seasons. “The more all of us are able to see, build, judge, make adjustments, and see what might have went wrong, what might’ve went right, we're able to add that into our mental playbook.”

For Bridges, it’s helped him be more dependable in late games. The Nets will take it as his reputation grows and Vaughn keeps trusting Bridges in future end-of-game moments

“[It’s] really not panicking, diagnosing the situation, making some adjustments from it, and then being okay with the results,” Vaughn said. “I think it takes special individuals to be okay with the results.”

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